Success At The Core Success At The Core How can the media impact student achievement?

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Success at the Core began as a question. In 2005, Paul G. Allen asked how media could be used to make a difference in education. In pursuit of an answer, Vulcan Productions teamed up with Education Development Center and together we set out to discover if and how media can impact student achievement.

We used the philosophy of Richard Elmore, professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, as our guiding principle: "You don't change performance without changing the instructional core. The relationship of the teacher and the students in the presence of content must be at the center of efforts to improve performance.” We wanted to impact that “instructional core.” And, after interviewing education stakeholders in Washington State and nationally, we began to see several opportunities based on insights we gathered:

  • More and more schools have leadership teams, but many teams lack the tools and guidance to effectively promote quality instruction.
  • In schools without strong leadership teams, teachers often find themselves working in isolation.
  • There’s a shortage of effective and scalable methodologies that provide structured materials to support teams and teachers in implementing quality instruction.

Success at the Core was born when we decided to focus our project on leadership and teacher development. In fall 2008, award-winning filmmaker Woody Creek Productions joined our team and began to capture the work of leadership teams and teachers in six Washington State middle schools. We selected these schools because of their diversity in geographic location, school size, student population, and because they offered us real-time access to their efforts.

Success at the Core is a free, web-based professional development toolkit designed to empower school leaders and promote instructional improvement. These video-rich tools include strategies to foster quality instruction in classrooms and among leadership teams, and are designed to support a school or district’s strategic initiatives. The online toolkit includes downloadable materials and multi-media presentations, as well as 47 documentary-quality videos. The toolkit demonstrates how highly effective leadership teams operate, and what outstanding instruction looks like.

Success at the Core features seven modules for leadership teams and 24 practical strategies for classroom teachers. The Leadership Development and Teacher Development materials work together to drive school-wide instructional improvement.

The resources help leadership teams learn to define quality instruction and advocate for it at their schools. Teachers learn strategies for making great instruction realities in their classrooms.

Success at the Core launched in 2009 and Vulcan Productions continues to support its expansion, growth and enhancement. Success at the Core has over 12,000 members and is growing daily, with a focus on outreach in Washington State, Montana and Alaska.

The independent evaluation firm, Inverness Research, studied the toolkit's efficacy during a pilot program in Washington State. Schools using the toolkit reported a growth in leadership capacity, improved professional culture, stronger instructional focus, and increased student engagement.

"Success at the Core fulfills a strongly felt and immediate need in the field by giving leadership teams and teachers a means to enact practices and take concrete steps that will move them closer to their visions of professional school culture and high quality instruction." – Inverness Research

Vulcan Productions is working with Goodman Research Group to evaluate what role Success at the Core has on improving student achievement. 32 teachers are participating in a multi-year study; results will be available in early 2014.


The impact on both teachers and their students is documented at Core Connections, a blog by Success at the Corefeaturing stories of best practices, inspiring experiences, and effective strategies related to leadership development, classroom instruction, and student engagement. This popular blog is shared widely among thousands of educators.

Learn More


  • Paul G. Allen: Executives-in-Charge
  • Jody Allen: Executives-in-Charge
  • Richard Hutton : Senior Executive Producer
  • Bonnie Benjamin-Phariss: Supervising Producer
  • Josh Samson: Producers
  • Hilary Sparrow: Producers
  • Matthew Greene: Technical Director
  • Erik Davidson: Design Director
  • Barbara Miller: Project Director, Education Development Center
  • Wendy Sauer: Developers, Education Development Center
  • Sonia Caus Gleason: Developers, Education Development Center
  • Katherine E. Stiles: Developers, Education Development Center
  • Neil Schiavo: Developers, Education Development Center
  • Jill Harrison Berg: Developers, Education Development Center